By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia
Viral Hepatitis is a major public health problem in the South-East Asia Region, and every person has a stake in controlling and eliminating it. Each year viral hepatitis infects millions of people across the Region, causing the death of around 410 000 persons – more than HIV and malaria combined. It is also a major cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis, contributing to premature morbidity and mortality, and undermining economic growth and the push to achieve health and wellbeing for all.
Despite hepatitis’ outsized burden, it is estimated that just one in ten people infected with the disease know their status. Many others remain unaware that effective treatments exist, or that preventive measures are available, from basic hygiene to the hepatitis B vaccine. Regrettably, stigma and discrimination against those suffering the disease remain common.
To overcome these barriers and eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030, as per regional and global targets, enhanced awareness and understanding of how to prevent, treat and manage the disease is vital.